07/09/04 — Ploy: Politicians try to have it both ways on the lottery

View Archive

Ploy: Politicians try to have it both ways on the lottery

Let’s get real: A politician cannot advocate a referendum on a state lottery and oppose the lottery at the same time.

If he says he’s for a vote, that means he’s for the lottery.

Some politicians have been trying to pretend otherwise ever since the idea of a lottery first came up several years ago. Claiming to favor a referendum but not a lottery is a way for them to seem morally clean while secretly salivating over the prospects that the gambling scheme will be approved.

Some will say: “We live in a democracy, so why not let the people decide?”

In the first place, our government is not a democracy. It is a representative republic. We elect representatives to make decisions for us.

Our state legislature makes hundreds of decisions for us every year, some of which are even more consequential than the lottery. They involve things like how much tax we will have to pay, how old we must be in order to vote, whether the state will put people to death for crimes — all sorts of important things. Why should this one issue, the lottery, be singled out for a vote?

Here’s why: Because many of the legislators who favor it don’t have the backbone to vote for it. If there were a referendum and more voters approved of it than disapproved, that would give them the excuse they want.

There is another interesting fact about our system. The North Carolina Constitution provides for popular votes on some specific issues, such as borrowing money. But there is no provision for a referendum on an issue like the lottery.

It is true that the legislature could call for an “advisory” referendum. But if more people voted against a lottery than for it, the legislature still could establish one. Legislators would not be required to pay any attention to the results of the referendum.

The lottery question won’t come up in the current session of the General Assembly. What brings it to mind again are comments by two of the Republican candidates for governor, Richard Vinroot and George Little. Both of them, as some Democratic politicians have been doing, claimed they opposed the lottery but favored the referendum.

All the other candidates in the GOP primary flatly opposed it.

A lottery would be a means of increasing revenue for the state through a state-run numbers racket. Some people think that’s a good idea and some don’t. Those who do should come right out and say so.

Published in Editorials on July 9, 2004 11:21 AM